The UK’s festival season generally runs from mid-May to mid-September. During this time, major international events such as Glastonbury Festival run alongside a tranche of smaller, local festivals. This means plenty of opportunities for food, beverage and merchandise vendors of all kinds. Here is a guide to making the most of them.
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Define your goals
There are three main reasons for going to a summer music festival as a business. The first is to increase your profit. The second is to increase your brand exposure. The third is to test out new products or services.
You may want to do all three. However, you need to set your priorities, so you have a strategy to resolve conflicts between them.
For example, maximising profits generally indicates that you want to stick with products and services that you know are popular. You might want to sell at summer music festivals with a good chance of high traffic, even if they’re not particularly relevant to your brand. This limits your opportunities for developing brand exposure and conducting market research.
If you want to test out new products and services, you may have to accept that your short-term profits may take a hit.
Similarly, if you’re planning to increase brand exposure, you may have to spend on promotion. In both cases, however, you should be aiming to recoup this investment over the medium to long term.
Choose the right festival(s)
Taking your business to a summer music festival requires an upfront investment. You need to focus on festivals that offer a good return on that investment.
Generally, the best way to find these festivals is by a process of elimination.
Top 20 UK Festivals in 2024 to consider:
Wide Awake, 25th May, London
AVA Festival, 31 May-1 June, Belfast
Parklife, 8-9 June, Manchester
Download Festival, 14-16 June, Leicestershire
The Isle of Wight Festival, 20-23 June, The Isle of Wight
Strawberries & Creem Festival, TBC, Cambridge
Glastonbury, 26-30 June, Somerset
British Summer Time Hyde Park, 5-6 July, London
Wireless Festival, 12-14 July, London
TRNSMT Festival, 12-14 July, Glasgow
Latitude Festival, 25-28 July, Suffolk
Y Not Festival, 2-4 August, The Peak District
Wilderness Festival 1-4 August, Oxfordshire
Boardmasters Festival, 7-11 August, Cornwall
All Points East, 17-25 August, London
Creamfields, 22-25 August, Cheshire
Reading and Leeds, 23-25 August, Reading/Leeds
Boundary Brighton, 28 September, Brighton
MiNT Festival, 4-5 May, Leeds
Green Man, 15-18 August, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Start with geography
Firstly, think about the places you could reasonably visit. You may wish to zone these to reflect the effort and cost of getting to them. It’s important to be realistic about this. If you take on more than you can handle, you’re more likely to get frustrated and disappoint your customers.
Think about where it would make the most sense for you to go. This is likely to depend on what your business goals are. For example, if you’re just starting out, then it may be best to stay within a fairly small geographical area. Work on building a core base of customers before you expand.
If you already have a local customer base, visiting summer music festivals in other regions may be great to develop it. With that said, you may want to pick certain geographic areas to target repeatedly. Essentially, the more people see you, the more likely they are to remember you.
Once you know what geographical areas you want to target, you can search for summer music festivals nearby. Larger festivals will usually have their own websites. For smaller festivals, however, the relevant local authority website is generally the best place to check.
Consider demographics carefully
Unless you’re sticking to a tiny geographic area, you’ll have a lot of summer music festivals you could attend. As the saying goes: just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should. Research the sort of people who’re likely to attend the festival. See if they’re the sort of people you’re trying to attract to your business.
Understand the practicalities
Before you decide whether or not to attend a summer music festival, make sure you’re clear on the practicalities. In particular, you need to know what facilities are available at the event. By extension, this defines what you need to organise yourself.
You also need to know their rules as they may require you to adjust your standard business practices. For example, many festivals now require vendors to use sustainable packaging and utensils.
How to secure a spot for your stall
Once you know what summer music festivals you want to attend, check the websites for when applications open. This is usually well in advance of the event. Submit your application as quickly as possible, as even small festivals tend to fill up quickly. Generally, you get an acceptance in principle first. You then submit the paperwork and fee to confirm it.
If the festival is on private land, you may not need a street trading licence. If it’s on public land, you usually will. You’ll generally need to register as a food business with the relevant local authority.
You’ll also need proof that you comply with food hygiene requirements, e.g. a food hygiene certificate. Many venues will require you to have public liability insurance and/or membership in the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF).
None of this is challenging to organise, but you should allow at least a month to process everything. Ideally, you should get the ball rolling as soon as you know you have a provisional acceptance.
How to prepare your stall.
If you’ve never run a stall before, it’s advisable to have at least one dry run before going to the festival. You need to figure out a configuration that allows you to work effectively in a small space.
Think about what equipment and stock you’re going to need. You may need to adjust your usual menu to cope with the limitations of the space.
If you have any space left inside, you can use this for display. However, if you don’t, it needn’t be a problem. Use the outside of your stall for display, perhaps menu boards, possibly with pictures.
How to take payments with Square
At festivals, taking card payments is non-negotiable. The only question is how you go about it. If you’re just testing the waters at festivals and want a quick and simple solution, then Square Reader is the way to go. Square Terminal will be better if you want more functionality such as a built-in printer for receipts.
Square Reader and Square Terminal are great for festivals because they’re compact, easy to use and have great battery life.
One charge is literally all you need for an entire day of card taking payments. What’s more, Square Terminal can even work offline. This gives you a Plan B if you have issues with WiFi/mobile data.
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How to prepare your staff
Doing a practice run before the first event should help to prepare your staff for the logistics of running the stall. You also need to ensure they are prepared for the practicalities of the festival itself.
For example, how will they get to it? Do they need to check in with the festival organiser before setting up? Do they know where the toilets are? What are the arrangements for their breaks/meals? How will they alert you to any problems (or good news)?
Ideally, put all this in writing, so your staff have something physical to refer to. If you’re short on space, you can put it on an electronic document staff can access from their phones or tablets but remember that signal can be bad and batteries run low!